10 MORE Great Books for the Young Readers (9-12 yrs) on Your List

graphic of book covers described in post

Need book recommendations for the 9 to 12 year old readers on your gift list? Here are the 10 books for this age group I really, really enjoyed in 2017.

This list has heartwarming adventure stories about orphans, the Middle Ages, life in the theater, and adventures at sea. Quite a few of these will make you laugh out loud!

For more about a book, click on the title to read my GoodReads review.

Book cover for EMELIN with boy and girl in monks' robes against a dark snowy monastery1. EMELIN by Jackie Randall is a story of a girl with a rare talent for illustrating books. Her talent is the only thing that stands between her and lifetime of hunger.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the Middle Ages!
  • Readers who love scrappy heroines!
  • Readers who love books about books!

 

2. THE INQUISITOR’S TALE by Adam Gidwitz is an exciting story with entertaining illustrations–arrows shoot across one of the pages–and three very different children and a magical dog.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the Middle Ages + magic!
  • Readers who love funny + true characters + amazing plot twists!
  • Readers of graphic novels/comic books who enjoy fast-paced, illustrated adventures.

3. E. G. Foley’s THE LOST HEIR (Book 1 of The Gryphon Chronicles) is a historical fantasy set in a fantastic Victorian London and is charming all the way through. E.G. Foley–the husband and wife team who author these books–clearly know what young readers will enjoy.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who like to fly!
  • Readers who love unicorns, mermaids, villains, fairies and Queen Victoria!
  • Readers who want every chapter to deliver!

4. Gary L. Blackwood’s THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER is the exciting and twisty story of a scrappy orphan boy called “Widge” who gets the job of stealing Mr. Shakespeare’s newest play.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love theater!
  • Readers who love backstage secrets!
  • Readers who love series!

 

5. Holly Goldberg Sloan’s SHORT is the hilarious story of a girl who is short for her age. She gets a part as a Munchkin in the local production of The Wizard of Oz. Short people are calling the shots and that changes everything!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love theater!
  • Readers who love to fly!
  • Readers who love when kids are in charge!

 

6. Linda Sue Park’s A SINGLE SHARD is about the orphan, Tree-Ear, who wants to “throw” the famous pottery vases that are beautiful enough for royalty. A philosophical, whimsical, and beautiful book!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the film, THE KARATE KID!
  • Readers who love the Middle Ages + Asia!
  • Readers who want to know what life was like for an orphan in Korea a long time ago!

7. Lauren Wolk’s BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA is a warm adventure story with lots of fascinating angles! I loved this book.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS and sea adventures!
  • Readers who love ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and warm friendships and adoptive families!
  • Readers who love buried treasure!

 

8. Ellen Booraem’s TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD is a wacky story that really shouldn’t work at all and the perfect cure for a gloomy winter day when you need to laugh out loud!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love to laugh!
  • Readers who love when the underdog wins!
  • Readers who love colorful families!

9. Jessica Day George’s PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL is a re-telling of the fairytale called the twelve dancing princesses in English and die zertanzte Schuhe in German. I actually liked the second book in the series even more: THE PRINCESS OF GLASS.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love fairy tale re-tellings!
  • Readers who love dancing (and knitting heroes!)
  • Readers who love series!

10. Andrew Clement’s FRINDLE

Both of my children really enjoyed this book when they were younger. I finally read it and it’s so much fun! Excellent and funny.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love school stories!
  • Readers who want to make their mark on the world!
  • Readers who love stories about what happens when you don’t follow the “rules”!

BONUS: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer’s THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Young Reader’s Edition) is the true story of a boy who reads about physics in his tiny village library after a famine means he can’t pay school fees any more. He’s determined to build a tower that will keep his family from ever going hungry again.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love libraries!
  • Readers who love true heroes!
  • Readers who want to be inspired!

WARNING for sensitive readers: there’s a very sad part about William’s dog that could be challenging. I skipped over some parts during the famine times, but the rest of the story is perfect for all readers!

 

If your voracious readers have read EVERYTHING and you need MORE, here are my 2016 top 10 books for Middle Grade readers (9 to 12).

Best wishes for wonderful holidays with your loved ones!

Happy reading and writing!

See you in 2018!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Persistence and the artistic dream in SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE by Lauren Graham

book cover of girl in red jacket going over bridge in New York City
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham is a charming and funny story of a young woman pursuing an artistic dream.

Usually I write about middle grade, young adult books, or writing craft books here, but this story of a young woman pursuing the acting dream has lots of parallels with the writing life. A nice novel to cheer up overworked writers with a bit of unexpected creative philosophy built in.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a charming debut novel for adults by actress Lauren Graham. It’s funny, with perfect, believeable details–except maybe the terrible script which is perfectly AWFUL.

 

 

 

My two favorite quotes:

One of the characters explains J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. (I was grateful for this because I’ve read Salinger’s novel and never could figure out what it was about.)

“. . .the act of repetition itself–will bring enlightenment. That’s the thing that always stuck out to me–the idea that quantity becomes quality. I always took it to mean if you do anything enough, if you keep putting effort in, eventually something will happen, with or without you. You don’t have to have faith when you start out, you just have to dedicate yourself to practice as if you have it.” –Chapter 29, pg. 249

I love this explanation of the actor’s advice: “Faster, Funnier, Louder.”

“FASTER–don’t talk down to the audience, take us for a spin, don’t spell everything out for us, we’re as smart as you–assume we can keep up; FUNNIER–entertain us, help us see how ridiculous and beautiful life can be, give us a reason to feel better about our flaws; LOUDER–deliver the story in the appropriate size, DON’T be indulgent or keep it to yourself, be generous–you’re there to reach US.” –Chapter 30, pg. 255

I’m off to do some repetitive practice with my novel revision!

Happy writing and revising!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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Looking in from the outside: Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series

Book cover for THICK AS THIEVES shows boat with masts, white mountains and a tower in the foreground, black background with gold title font.
The newest in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.

Thick as Thieves came out this year (Yay! I read it twice in a row!) and I’ve been enjoying re-reading Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. She’s making me think about the story from an outsider’s perspective.

Megan Whalen Turner’s beloved Eugenides character is showcased in a way that reminds me of Dorothy Dunnett’s well-loved Francis Crawford of Lymond. Both authors have a lovely, twisty plotting style with snappy dialogue to warm any reader’s heart.

Dorothy Dunnett rarely gives the reader an inside glimpse of Lymond’s mind or heart. Rife and contradictory speculation lets the reader discover Lymond’s true character, just the way we get to know people in real life.

In The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner moves the point of view progressively further away from her key character, Eugenides.

The Thief is told in the first person by the Queen’s Thief.

The Queen of Attolia seems to be third person omniscient because we get interior thoughts from both the Thief and from the Queen.

The King of Attolia is told by an Attolian guard who resists being won over by the new King of Attolia.

A Conspiracy of Kings is told from the King of Sounis’s point of view.

Thick as Thieves is a quest story about an Attolian guard told from the point of view of Kamet, the head slave of the Mede Emperor’s nephew, as he figures out what the King of Attolia is really like. The relationship that develops reminds me of the one between Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander.

What are the advantages of an outsider’s perspective for a story?

  1. It makes the reader “an accomplice” and works especially well in a series where we already know and love the main character.

“And this is the genius of Megan Whalen Turner because in book 3, we, the readers, are Eugenides’s accomplices. We sit back and wait for the coin to drop for everybody else as it has dropped for us in books 1 and 2.” —The Book Smugglers

2. The outsider can question what the main character never says (or thinks about). The reader gains a guide and a companion in the story, a Watson to a closed-off and brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Megan Whalen Turner’s Costis does this effectively, as does Kamet.

3. Misdirection, fame, and mystery. An obvious advantage (and disadvantage): we see what the main character looks like from the outside. Megan Whalen Turner uses this to great effect in The King of Attolia when we see what Eugenides looks like to everyone else.

Interestingly, Eugenides’ relationship to the god of thieves is always shown to the reader from the outside. This conveys mystery better than any internal thought process could.

4. Someone to carry the ball. A story that ends in a tragic death can only be told by an outside narrator. Not sure if that’s an advantage. Someone has to be left to do the wrap up. Unless you’d like a Shakespearean monologue after death delivered by your main character. Thankfully, Megan Whalen Turner hasn’t done this yet. (MWT–Please don’t kill off your beloved characters!)

Here’s the link to the whole review by The Book Smugglers which says what I’ve been trying to say about the change in narration and the power of these books, so I’ll stop now. 🙂

What I really want to say is: Read the books!

Here’s another fun mini-interview with Megan Whalen Turner about The Queen’s Thief series. And another one.

Happy reading!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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Becoming an artist at The Winged Pen

book cover in graphic novel style, boy and girl in brown medieval cloaks in a snowy dark wood with a monastery looming behind
Jackie Randall’s EMELIN is an exciting adventure story about a girl who is a book artist.

If you’re looking for me this week, I’m over at The Winged Pen interviewing author Jackie Randall about her middle grade adventure: EMELIN.

I really enjoyed this book!

The gutsy girl artist, Emelin, is appealing. Her mysterious friend Wolf is also intriguing.

The story is easy-peasy accessible and the everyday details of England in the middle ages are effortlessly accurate. Try it, you’ll like it.

You can read the interview with author, Jackie Randall, here.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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The Book Club for Kids talks satisfying reads and Gary D. Schmidt’s ORBITING JUPITER

Book cover showing boy walking on snowy road with arms out like an airplane.
Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter is the story of a “troublish” boy with a two-month-old baby named Jupiter.

A recent The Book Club for Kids episode is about Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter

I haven’t read this YA book yet but I’m very interested. The readers’ lively reactions make me want to be “there in the barn with them” and find out what happens to this “troublish” boy with a two-month-old baby named Jupiter.

Gary D. Schmidt gives some fascinating and touching backstory about Orbiting Jupiter, how he writes, and how he became a writer of fiction.

Bonus for writers: Middle grade readers reveal what writers can include to create satisfying books. (At 21:00)

  • catch our feelings
  • make us wonder what happens next
  • a lot of drama
  • surprise at the beginning
  • keep us interested

An interview with Gary D. Schmidt about the setting of Orbiting Jupiter.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Tools: Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 2

photo of compartments under the lid of a piano, paintboxes, brushes, sewing things
A piano with built-in toolboxes for sewing and putting on make-up. Andreas Landschütz, 1820. MAKK museum in Cologne. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Last week I wrote about the challenges of making your reader feel the emotions of your main character. This week, the thrilling conclusion.

Challenging feedback doesn’t have to derail your writing. I’ve got tools for us. 🙂 Just don’t try to use the whole toolbox for every scene. That way lies ruin. *cough*

book cover for Karl Inglesias' Writing for Emotional ImpactKarl Iglesias’ Writing for Emotional Impact. There are SO many powerful tools in this book that you’re sure to find a way to add that zing.

Appetizer: Six techniques from this book with examples from Nancy Cavanaugh’s middle grade This Journal Belongs to Ratchet in this blog post. Download my infographic six ways to reveal character here.

Book cover for Mary Kole's Writing Irresistible KidlitMary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit. A variety of craft advice all in one place. It’s aimed at the children’s book author, but much of it is applicable to all fiction. Her Emotional Plot made me understand that story circumstances = emotion.

 

 

Book cover for The Emotion ThesaurusAngela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. This is the ultimate grocery store for thoughts, physical reactions, body language, and facial expressions. An excellent starting point to build in body language and thoughts that show the reaction your character is trying to hide from everyone else. Right after you let the reaction leak out, then you can show the character hide it.

Appetizer: Read more about how to use it at the Winged Pen.

 

book cover for K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your NovelK.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel has the clearest explanation of how to construct character reactions I’ve seen. When readers internalize what the main character wants, they can identify with them. The clearest way to get emotion across is to show your character’s thinking.

Appetizer: My infographic based on K.M. Weiland’s book is here.

And there are two new recent books I haven’t read, but they are both on my wishlist! I’m promising myself one of them as a prize when I finish the revision of my WIP.

Book cover for Lisa Cron's Story GeniusLisa Kron’s Story Genius. On my wishlist.

Appetizer: Her downloadable “Top 11 Takeaways from Story Genius” here in exchange for your e-mail.Or listen to The Creative Penn podcast (or read the transcript): “Take Five with Lisa Cron.

 

 

book cover for Donald Maass's The Emotional Craft of FictionDonald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction. I heard him speak at a workshop once and I love his Writing the Breakout Novel workbook. He gives concrete advice. Inspiring.

Appetizer: Read an excerpt on Writer Unboxed.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed? 😉

  1. Pick ONE thing to try and see if you like it.
  2. Follow Donald Maas’s advice: “Does it make your scene better? Then put it in.”
  3. Send it by your beta readers to test.
  4. Repeat.

Feeling any better about your manuscript? Let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking for new insights.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Peace on Earth, Good Will to You All!

Soft dolls in a nativity scene. Mary, Joseph with dreadlocks, angel, felt palm tree, and smiling camel with red saddle. © Laurel Decher, 2016.
I think this camel is pleased about the new saddle. Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and a smiling camel, waiting for the baby Jesus. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A year ago, I wrote about our “rastafarian” Joseph and the challenges of writing about other people’s cultures: Skin-colored Felt: Doing other people’s cultures wrong. It feels like we’ve gone backwards in trying to understand each other this year.

Our rastafarian Joseph still leans to one side. (He still needs that navy bean transfusion.) Our angel has wings, our camel sports a new saddle and Mary looks much fresher without the excess glue. They look hopelessly naive in the face of so much pain. But the camel makes me smile every time I walk by.

Joan Bauer’s HOPE WAS HERE is a middle grade story about how much bigger hope is than we think. She wrote it in an apartment overlooking the smoking remains of the Twin Towers in New York City. When she started it, she had a tiny pillow that said “Hope”, but when she finished, she said that little pillow of hope was as big as a couch.

We can grow more hope.

See you in January!

Peace on Earth, Good will to all!

If you’re looking for gift ideas for young readers, try this list of recommended books on The Winged Pen. These are the middle grade books I’ve read and enjoyed most this year.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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